Through his first two-plus seasons, shortstop Addison Russell has put up big numbers, despite a paltry batting average. Is this what we should expect moving forward?
Addison Russell was touted as a contact-hitting prospect with some pop when he was coming up through the Chicago Cubs’ farm system. Bleacher Report’s Mike Rosenbaum described Russell as having “innate bat-to-ball skills” that would translate
So far, Russell hasn’t lived up to those expectations. Those “innate bat-to-ball skills” have resulted in a career .237 batting average.
Of course, Russell is a young player who was inevitably going to experience growing pains as he got acclimated into the big leagues. But for a player who was tabbed a “future superstar,” his numbers so far leave more to be desired.
Last season, Russell broke out offensively hitting 21 homers and driving in 95 runs, the first Cub shortstop to do so since Ernie Banks. While that home run total is in-line with what was expected, the RBI totals had more to do with his spot in the Cubs’ prolific lineup. Runs batted in are a stat of opportunity after all.
More from Cubbies Crib
- Cubs: Adrian Sampson is forcing his way into the conversation
- Projecting the Chicago Cubs bullpen to open the 2023 season
- Cubs fans are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel
- Justin Steele has evolved into a frontline starter for the Cubs
- The future of first base is murky right now for the Cubs
Now that’s not to say Russell isn’t a good hitter. He still had to put the bat on the ball in order to get those numbers. But some would argue that he’s not doing it enough.
Now batting average isn’t nearly as important a stat as people think it is. Russell’s big 2016 came while batting .238 after all. However, this season he’s batting .215, which isn’t good no matter how you look at it.
If we look closely, the problem may lie in how he’s hitting the ball.
Not hitting the ball hard enough
Russell’s soft contact rate for his career is 21.4 percent which ranks seventh-worst among players with the aforementioned parameters, seven percent points above the league average during that span. He’s not an all-or-nothing player either, ranking tied for 16th-worst in hard contact percentage.
In each of his three years he’s ranked seventh, 27th and 52nd-worst in contact percentage. He’s getting better, but all of those numbers are below league average.
What all this tells us is his low batting average is mostly the result of softly-hit balls and a below-average contact percentage. Another factor contributing has been luck.
Russell had a BABIP of .324 his rookie season, which means that his BA probably would’ve been higher if not for that 28.5 percent K rate. What’s troubling is as his strikeouts have gone down, so has his BABIP.
Russell hits a lot of fly balls, understandably so for a player with his pop. In fact, the shortstop ranks in the top half of players since his debut in fly ball percentage.
What the problem is fly balls tend to be outs when you’re not crushing them off the bat. Combine this with Russell’s contact stats and it’s no wonder he’s hitting .237 for his career.
Coming up with solutions
So what’s the solution? Squaring the ball up more would definitely help. That’s easier said than done, but doing so would increase his odds of batted balls falling in for hits. It would also turn more of his fly balls into home runs.
Russell may never be that .280 or above type hitter, and that’s fine. He doesn’t have to be in order to be productive, as we saw last season. However, if he wants to take that next step into stardom he needs to make better contact so he can play to his strengths.
Only 23, Russell still has vast amounts of untapped potential. His improvement making contact is a great sign, and if he can keep doing that and hit the ball harder than expect that batting average to creep up to where you want it to be.